Stories Are Like Birthday Cake

You know how great one tastes, but you probably don't know what goes into it.

Suppose you had taken a bite of the most delicious birthday cake ever. This cake was so good that you would do anything to have more of it. But what if I told you that this cake was unique--one of a kind. Would you want to try to make one of your own? What if I told you that I would help you, and that I would make sure any resource would be made available to you…the only catch is, you’ve first got to tell me what to do.

Would you know how to make a cake as delicious as the first?

Sure, you might have an idea of some of the ingredients--flour, eggs, sugar. But you wouldn’t know the exact measurements. And you wouldn’t know what order to combine them in and how long to bake the cake so that it comes out of the oven just as yummy as the one you fell in love with.

On the other hand, lets say I had the secret recipe for a different kind of cake. Oh, it would still be a real mouth-watering forget-all-your-troubles scrumptious cake, but it wouldn’t be an exact copy.

All the steps would be laid out for you to create the ultimate confection. You could go to the store with confidence knowing you were buying just the right amount of ingredients. In fact, the recipe would be so clear and concise that you would spend hardly any time shopping and even less time putting it all together.

Could you describe how that cake will taste?

Sure you could guess--you could even sneak a bite as you were putting it together. But you would never know exactly how the final result would be received. You would never know who would love it or who would hate it. You could only surmise that the author of the original recipe knew what he or she was doing.

Stories are a lot like birthday cakes. You know instinctively which ones are the best. Like a great tasting dessert, you keep coming back for more and more, wanting, lusting after that chemical high you had from a great work of art. But you couldn’t say for sure how to put together one of your own. You know there are acts and character development and thematic elements, but on the receiving end of a story you can’t pinpoint exactly why it created in you this feeling--you just know it tastes great.

And conversely, you could have the recipe spelled out for you in great detail (see Narrative First and Subtxt for Writers) but still not know how your story will be received. You can see how well the theory works here and on the aforementioned main site in the numerous examples and pages of analysis. But even having that, you will never really know for sure how audiences will appreciate your brave attempt at art.

In the same way that the objective and the personal points-of-view relate, you cannot hold both contexts of story creation and story appreciation at the same time. You can only appreciate that which has been done, or have faith that the recipe given to you will produce the same results in your audience.